Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Why can't China accept international arbitration?

That's a big question that plays in the minds of most democratic-loving people worldwide.

Map shows location of Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands. 
According to the China's foreign ministry, the Philippines' filing of a complaint before ITLOS was tantamount to stealing its territories. If China is really the legitimate owner of some, if not all, the islands in the South China Sea, how come it didn't raise a howl when the UNCLOS was created? Wasn't China aware of the consequences as soon as the UNCLOS was created? In fact, it was clear from the beginning that a particular country has the right to own up islands that are within its 250 EEZ limits. Yet, China has kept mum on the issue until the Philippines decided to put a demarcation which eventually created the West Philippine Sea.

Even as this article is being written, Chinese Coast Guards had been intimidating smaller Philippine ships that went to Ayungin Shoal to bring food rations to some soldiers who were stationed a shipwreck, courtesy of the United States government. The dilapidated ship has remained the sanctuary of Filipino soldiers who were stationed there to assert the Philippine government's claim to the islands in the West Philippine Sea. After a long chase in the open seas, the Filipino contingents, including several journalists, were able to elude the Chinese Coast Guards and had successfully brought food and replacements to the high-spirited soldiers.

As far as I'm concerned, China's actuations on this matter can be misconstrued as an antiquated assertion of its claim dating back many centuries ago. If indeed, most of the islands in the South China belonged to them, why can't China just allow claimant countries to hear the decision of ITLOS on the issue at hand? Instead, China has ventured into some kind of bullying tactics in order to intimidate weaker countries like the Philippines.

We are in the modern world right now. Gone were the days when a particular country could just claim any island or land that its citizens had discovered while on a foreign sea voyage. That's why the United Nations was created so that all member-countries will abide to its rules and regulations. Ironically, China doesn't want to observe proper international protocol. Hence, it defies to engage the claimant countries in a fair and just settlement over the disputed territories in the South China Sea.

If this happening right now, perhaps, China just want to show the world that it has the military might to protect its international interests regardless of whoever it may bump into. And if China does the unexpected, it's now up to the United Nations to make sanctions against China. At the moment, the world is watching
every move that the Chinese naval forces do in the South China Sea.

My only hope is that it would calm down its true senses and come to realize that international arbitration is the only recourse left to settle the territorial sea rowin the South China Sea. Otherwise, international shipping mobility could be hampered.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

China threatens PH with bad consequences

Territorial sea row in the South China Sea
China has warned the Philippines that it would suffer the consequences should the latter pursues its plan to file a complaint over a territorial dispute in the South China Sea before the International Tribunal on the Laws of the Seas (ITLOS).

According to former ranking government officials in the Philippines, there is a possibility that China could use its technological might to sabotage either the energy projects or introduce virus into the country's sensitive communications data.

Former Interior and Local Governments Secretary Raffy Alunan said in a broadcast interview that he received a report that the country's electric grids could be shut down remotely, which could cripple the electricity distribution in the Philippines.

Currently, China owns at least 40 percent of the stakes in the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines through the former state grid. But an official of the NGCP said this wouldn't happen considering that China will not gamble its investments in such a gigantic project.

In reaction to the made allegations by Alunan in a broadcast interview with ANC, NGCP spokesperson Atty. Cynthia Alabanza explained that China doesn't control beyond the technological aspects of the business.

The territorial row stemmed from China's continues aggression over a select few of islands in the South China Sea, saying its owns these islands ever since.

Under the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas (UNCLOS), all the islands within the West Philippine Seas belong to the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines (EEZ). But China continues to ignore this assertion, despite its being a signatory to the UNCLOS. Critics are saying that China shouldn't have signed as part of the UNCLOS if it continues to violate an international protocol.

But why is China so desperate to lay claims on some of the islands in the West Philippine Seas, which in the eyes of the world, belong to the Philippines?

Former National Security Adviser Roilo Golez said that the Recto Bank in the West Philippine Seas is believed to produce at least five billion barrels of oil and huge natural gas deposits which could generate billions of dollars for whoever can tap their potentials.

Because of these, China's bullying tactics continues to undermine what is embodied in the provisions of UNCLOS. In fact, the Chinese Coast Guards recently bombarded Filipino fishermen who were fishing in one of the islands in the West Philippine Seas, with water cannons as a warning to them.

At this writing, Chinese Coast Guard ships are always seen patrolling the group of islands, which is legally under the territorial jurisdiction of the Philippines.

There is also a possibility that China may introduce computer virus to the government's communications data. However, China is aware that it doesn't have the monopoly of the computer technology to inflict severe damage on sensitive websites in the Philippines. Perhaps, China has forgotten that the Philippines has a lot of computer experts who are always ready to protect the country's sensitive data.

In the past, some Chinese hackers have already defaced some of the Philippines' government websites. Pending the Philippine government's filing of the complaint with the ITLOS on March 30, China is getting nervous, a sign that many international observers consider as a manifestation of weakness in so far as
its claims on some of the islands and shoals in the West Philippine Seas are concerned.

My only concern is that China may be thinking of annexing all the islands in the South China Sea like what Russia did to Crimea in Ukraine. Hopefully, China will not be stupid enough to think about this because it is aware that its image will look bad before the eyes of the world.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Where is Malaysian airline flight 370?


Nobody knows yet.

Route of Malaysian airline flight 370. Photo: Wikipedia
That's what most aviation investigators and experts have said in a series of news reports in the tri-media worldwide. Despite the collaborative efforts of at least 26 countries to help in the search for the missing Malaysian airline, which scoured the South China Sea, Indian Ocean and the Andaman Sea, no signs of debris were ever found.

After 11 days of futile searching, the whereabouts of the Malaysian airline Boeing 777 with 239 passengers aboard, remains a mystery. The Malaysian airline flight 370 took off at the Kuala Lumpur international airport on March 8 at around 12:41 a.m bound for Beijing, China. It was piloted by Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, a co-pilot.

Of the 239 passengers, some 159 Chinese citizens were aboard the commercial airline. It could not be ascertained right now if the plane was hijacked or not. Recent news reports put China in the spotlight when more than 20 of its innocent citizens were victimized by fatal stabbing incidents believed to be perpetrated by some Uigers from the Gobi Desert of Xinjiang Province, in retaliation for China's ill-treatment of them. But this claim was discounted by the same aviation experts. While latest reports claim that Mr. Shah was a staunch supporter of Malaysia's opposition group, which may have sparked his interest to get back at Malaysia's government.

However, all the above were mere speculations at this moment. And aviation probers are still digging deeper into the mysterious disappearance of the said airline. Although there were comments that two Iranian passengers, who were suspected of using stolen passports from two European tourists in Thailand, were also aboard flight 370. The question that lingers in the minds of most people who were tracking the latest developments have suspected that they may have something to do in the missing plane. Is the plane being kept in Iran or another country where the passengers are being held hostage for the time being?

Using my un solicited opinion, I could only surmise two possibilities that may have caused the plane's disappearance somewhere. Either the plane may have crashed into the ocean or it  may have been hijacked and the pilots were forced to land the plane in a desert. But why pick a Malaysian airline? Whatever is
the motive behind its disappearance, nobody knows at this time.

Until something comes up at any given time, the jigsaw puzzle that surrounds the disappearance of the Malaysian airline flight 370 is yet to be resolved. And close relatives of the missing passengers could only hope for the best: That the plane is being diverted somewhere else.

For now, the world is awaiting any result of the on-going investigation being conducted by the Malaysian authorities, with the help of some countries.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

China must accept the provisions of UNCLOS

China has again used its naval might to bully Filipino fishermen who were taking shelter due to bad weather 40 yards off the shore of the Bajo de Masinloc, which is inside  the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines.

An exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is a seazone prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea over which a state has special rights over the exploration and use of marine resources, including energy production from water and wind.[1] It stretches from the baseline out to 200 nautical miles from its coast. In colloquial usage, the term may include the continental shelf. The term does not include either the territorial sea or the continental shelf beyond the 200 n.m.limit. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exclusive_Economic_Zone)

The incident took place a few days when the Chinese Coast Guard deliberately bombarded two Filipino fishing vessels with a water cannon as a means to drive them away from the area.

Although Philippine Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez told media in a presscon that no one of the fishermen were seriously injured during the bullying tactics made by the Chinese coast guards. And it couldn't be immediately ascertained if the action of the Chinese coast guards was authorized by the central government of China.

Hernandez said that this is not the first time that China did it to Filipino fishermen. There were instances in the past when the same bullying tactics were used to intimidate or drive away Filipino fishermen whose only purpose in the area was to catch fish, he said.

Why drove the Chinese Coast Guards to do this stupid action?

The foreign affairs official said that China continues to believe that the whole of the South China Sea belongs to them. The Chinese government has insisted that most of the islands and atolls in the area, including those being claimed by the Philippines and other Asean member countries, are theirs. Reports showed that China's claims are supported by history.

As a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), it could have contested the matter before affixing its signature to the agreement. But it didnt? Now, it is trying to bully a small country like the Philippines, claiming that most, if not all, of the areas in the South China Sea are part
of Chinese history.

If China doesn't believe in the mission of the UNCLOS, it might as well dismember itself as part of the United Nations. Understandably, the UNCLOS made it clear in its definition of the "continental shelf and the criteria for the establishment of its outer limits", yet it seems China pretends to be unaware of such a
policy.

The definition of the continental shelf and the criteria by which a coastal State may establish the outer limits of its continental shelf are set out in article 76 of the Convention. In addition, the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (the "Conference") adopted on 29 August 1980 a "Statement of
Understanding" which is contained in Annex II to the Final Act of the Conference.

The term "continental shelf" is used by geologists generally to mean that part of the continental margin which is between the shoreline and the shelf break or, where there is no noticeable slope, between the shoreline and the point where the depth of the superjacent water is approximately between 100 and 200 meters. However, this term is used in article 76 as a juridical term.

According to the Convention, the continental shelf of a coastal State comprises the submerged prolongation of the land territory of the coastal State - the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas that extend beyond its territorial sea to the outer edge of the continental margin, or to a distance of 200 nautical miles where the outer edge of the continental margin does not extend up to that distance. The continental margin consists of the seabed and subsoil of the shelf, the slope and the rise. It does not include the deep ocean floor with its oceanic ridges or the subsoil thereof .

According to article 76, the coastal State may establish the outer limits of its juridical continental shelf wherever the continental margin extends beyond 200 nautical miles by establishing the foot of the continental slope, by meeting the requirements  of article 76, paragraphs 4 - 7, of the Convention...(http://www.un.org/Depts/los/clcs_new/continental_shelf_description.htm#definition)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Water shortage to affect California's almond production


Water shortage is in the offing and it is likely to decide the fate of the agriculture industry in California.

When this happens, the drought will surely affect  the various farms that are scattered all over the state. At this writing, growers of almond nuts are already feeling the pinch and they have doubts that almond production will be reduced to a certain level.

At the moment, about 82 percent of the world's demands for almond nuts are sourced out from California. It is likely that when the supply is low, demands for this type of nut will be high. But in the absence of sufficient supply to satisfy the markets, prices of almond nuts will go up, too.

In a study made by the University of California, it suggested that almond trees should be supplied with water to meet their full water requirement in order to attain maximun growth, yield and crop quality.

The same study revealed that if water availability is limited, growers can react by applying irrigation water when trees are most sensitive to stress and by taking measures to minimize water losses that occur during irrigation events. "Supplying less water than the trees can potentially use reduces soil water availability, causes tree water deficits, and reduces transpiration," the UC study added.

Lack of water supply affect almond orchards not only in the year in which stress occurs, but also in the following seasons. As a result,  nut size is reduced in the first season of significant water stress, the study cited.

Likewise, "water stress also reduces vegetative growth and potentially decreases productivity per unit canopy volume and nut load can be reduced in subsequent years. Recent research showed that some stages of almond fruit growth are more sensitive to water stress than others. Understanding these stages permits growers to withhold water while minimizing damage to trees and to current and subsequent crops."

But the question is: Will there be enough water to irrigate these acres of almond tree plantations in California?
Almond nuts in California.

According to California's Department of Water Resoruces, the state of California receives an estimated 200 million acre-feet of water from precipitation and imports from Colorado, Oregon and Mexico.

About 50-60 percent either is used by native vegetation, evaporates to the atmosphere, provides some of the water for agricultural crops and managed wetlands (effective precipitation); or flows to Oregon, Nevada, the Pacific Ocean, and salt sinks like saline groundwater aquifers and the Salton Sea, it reported.

The DWR further said that the remaining 40-50 percent, or dedicated supply is distributed among urban and agricultural uses, water for protecting and restoring the environment, or storage in surface and groundwater reservoirs for later use.

"In any year, some of the dedicated supply includes water that is used multiple times (reuse) and water stored from previous years. Ultimately, about a third of the dedicated supply flows out to the Pacific Ocean, in part to meet environmental requirements, or to other salt sinks," the DWR cited.

Water supplies throughout California is provided by the State Water Project, a well-planned and unique water facility that is operated and maintained by the California Department of Water Resources. Central to its mandate is to make sure that ample water supply is provided to about 25 million Californians and
750,000 acres of iirigated farmlands.

To the unitiated, the State Water Project is a water storage and delivery system of reservoirs, aqueducts, powerplants and pumping plants. Its main purpose is to store water and distribute it to 29 urban and agricultural water suppliers in Northern California, the San Francisco Bay Area, the San Joaquin Valley, the
Central Coast, and Southern California.

However, the state's agricultural water supply, which comes in large part from a vast estuary northeast of the San Francisco Bay, will suffer the consequences brought about the impending impacts of a natural calamity such as an earthquake or rising sea levels. According to an article that appeared on the website of www.theverge.com, it pointed to Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which currently relies on old levees could crumble when a disaster occurs.

It cited experts as saying that a large-scale collapse would put the state's water supplies in grave jeopardy, and in turn impact the entire country, which relies on California both economically and for a large amount of its food.

In response to the impending risk, California's Governor Jerry Brown, in conjunction with various state agencies, offers a potential solution by boring two massive tunnels to subvert the levees entirely, while simultaneously attempting to help endangered species through large-scale habitat restoration.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Filipina caregiver wins first X-Factor Israel

Ms. Rose Fostanes, with girlfriend Adel and friends, celebrates victory at a
bar in Tel Aviv.
Whenever a certain individual of Filipino lineage becomes a cynosure of international beauty or singing contests, some people from other cultures and even fellow countrymen themselves would either make a potpouri of comments that are sometimes unimaginable and unreasonable.

Last year, the Philippines bagged at least four international beauty crowns (Miss World, Miss International, Miss Supra International and Miss Tourism International, plus two 3rd runners-up finish). Consequently, one of the commentors,  believed to be a Singaporean citizen, had made a negative comment which equated the beauty titlist as part of the "nannies" kingdom. What happened next was that she was penalized by the Singaporean government for making such a negative comment in the social media.

In view of these circumstances, I'm beginning to realize that winning international competitions, be it a beauty or singing contest, they're always equated with nice looks, good height or high-pitch, husky voice that is comparable to the tunes being belt out by some of the popular international singers in the world.

Someone who doesn't look beautiful or sing so well, have no place in this sphere. That's always the equation that most people think about when making their own judgment one somebody else's talents.

And who would think that Miss Megan Young would win the Miss World? Everybody knows that Latina beauties are always the biggest and close competitors of Filipino beauties. And I wouldn't be surprised at all why Venezuela won the Miss Universe 2013 again. However, it was shocking to learn that Young, a
FilipinoAmerican beauty, would bag the crown.

In the past, there were several attempts by Filipino-American contestants to join the American Idol, but the farthest distance that one of them could go was second place or third place at the most. Never had I known that a Filipino-American singer ever bagged first place in that contest. Was it a reason of ethnicity that is counted as one of the factors for their failure to rise up to the occasion and win first place? Or it could be that judges were always discriminating to ethnic contestants?

But then again, my negative impression of Israel to be a discriminating country has ebbed this week. That's when, perhaps,  most of the Jews set aside ethnicity in favor of an outstanding talent that any human could prove to the world. Such was the case of Rose Fostanes, a Fililipino working as a caregiver in Israel for at least seven years now, who was given a chance to prove her worth in singing before the wide audience of the first "X-Factor Israel." From top four, the constestants were reduced to two. A short, stout Filipino caregiver against a beautiful and slim contestant from Israel, the competition was considered a fair game for the world to see and vote.

"Ate Osang" had belted a female version of Frank Sinatra's "My Way" and there it had caused madness of admiration when she reached that high-pitch of a last note to bag the first prize of X-Factor Israel. I'm sure it wasn't for beauty but for the best singing voice Israel has ever heard. It proved once more that ethnicity is out of the picture, but outstanding talents are factors that count the most.

PH police uncover new modus operandi of illegal drug peddlers

Ecstacy pills in the markets. Credit: bar.wikipedia.org
Combined police operations have seized more illegal drugs in Metro Manila and the suburbs of Batangas province, where international couriers in cahoots with local Filipinos were apprehended and are now facing criminal charges for illegal drug peddling.

This developed after the law enforcers received reliable tips from concerned individuals that led them to their posh condominium hideouts  in Makati City and a ranch in Lipa City, Batangas, owned by the Leviste family, recently.

The anti-drug operations were conducted by the PNP, Philippine Drug Enforcement Authority (PDEA) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

According to Atty. Roque Merdegia, chief of the PNP's Anti-Illegal Drug Special Operations Task Force, they had been conducting surveillance operations concerning the movements of a drug dealer in Lipa City, believed to have tie ups with the Mexican-Sinaloa drug cartel, for a long time until they finally caught red handed at least three individuals inside the LPL Ranch in Lipa City, Batangas province. One of the suspects was a Filipino-Chinese national and two caretakers of the ranch.

Former Batangas Gov. Antonio Leviste, who just got a pardon from the Bureau of Prisons in Muntinlupa City, has denied any knowledge of what the group was doing inside the family's ranch. Tony Leviste said he was aware that they're renting the place for raising and breeding cocks for cock-fighting purposes.

Merdegia said in a television interview that his operatives are now running after a certain Jorge Torres, who is believed to be a Filipino-American living in Ontario, California. The police have suspected that Torres was the one who had connections with the Mexican drug cartel and was responsible for establishing connections with a Chinese group in the Philippines.

"Once he is arrested in California, perhaps, he could shed more light on some of the illegal drug operations in the Philippines," Merdegia said.

On the one hand, the NBI operatives who raided the condo units in the cities of Makati and Taguig, claimed that they had a hard time arresting the suspects due to the non-cooperation of the security guards and administrators of the buildings where the suspects resided.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer said the combined operatives seized from the suspects cocaine and ecstacy ills valued at P100 million during the raids at the Luxe Residences and One Serendra in Bonifacio Global City, and on Gramercy Residence in Makati City.

Those arrested at The Luxe Residences were identified as Barry Espadilla and Tristan Olazo, a Canadian and Filipino nationals, respectively; and a certain Tara Leanne Hadden-White who was arrested at One Serendra. Canadian James Riach, Filipino Gibson Arca and Iranian-Canadian Ali Shirazi were arrested
in the raid on Gramercy Residence.

NBI Supervising Agent Eric Isidoro claimed that the latest modos operandi of the group is to rent exclusive condo units where security guards are posted to prevent law enforcers from pouncing on them during raids. Isidoro believed that they're now coming out with a variety of repackaged pills to mislead authorities from detecting them while they're being peddled in the domestic market.

Authorities have strong suspicions that with the all-out-war being waged in Europe and the United States, big time illegal drugs peddlers are now putting their eyes on establishing big markets in the Asia-pacific region, especially in Metro Manila where big casinos and resort hotels are taking shape to alter the skylines of Metro Manila.

Isidoro said that among the primary targets of these illegal drug peddlers are the high rollers at the casinos, especially those foreigners, who are always ooking for something to keep them awake all night.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

PH power suppliers aiming for big profits

Malampaya natural gas project in Palawan.
When the Malampaya offshore gas project in Palawan underwent a maintenance repair, a power rate hike went berserk thus causing millions of Metro Manila consumers to express worry that the latest burden would impact on their household expenses.

The question that lingers in my mind is how come the Manila Electric Company (Meralco), which sources out most of its cheap power supply from Malampaya failed to anticipate the disastrous impacts of the shutdown, knowing full well that this could terribly put millions of financially-hard up consumers on the quagmire?

Consumer groups, however, have other complaints to make. Some of them even went out of their way to file a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) before the appropriate courts so that the latest spike in power rates could be averted outright. Likewise, they're putting the blame on the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) for granting the sinister wishes of Meralco to increase the power rate by more than P4 pesos per kilowatt hour on the first tranche until it reaches the required power increase of almost P8 pesos per kwh.

There was even a scenario wherein consumer groups had suspected that Meralco and ERC officials may have colluded as a means to trick the public into believing that the power rate hike was justified. If there was any secret agreement between the two parties, the Department of Justice has ordered an investigation in order to find out as to whether money changed hands to favor the Meralco's initiative.

For its part, Meralco officials claimed that the primordial reason as to why there's a power rate increase was because alternative power suppliers were selling their power at a much higher cost compared to what Malampaya gas plant's tag price.

Amid the chaos and verbal tussles between consumer groups and Meralco, including some ERC officials, the Supreme Court has granted the wishes of the power consumers by issuing a TRO that prevented the lone power distributor Meralco from implementing its power rate increases into effect.

Normally, a problem comes in when a certain power distributor is monopolizing the power distribution. The point is that there is no competition in the market where consumers may have the option to pick which power distributor they want to use for their electricity needs. In the past, Metro Manila residents had suffered a lot because of power shortages, which lasted for a couple of days.

Now, Meralco is saying that the lack of power distribution may cause unwanted black outs all over Metro Manila because it may no longer be able to account for the costs of buying expensive power from other suppliers who are always ready to share for profits. According to Meralco, its failure to collect the desired
power rate increases would eventually result to disrupting the flow of electricity in Metro Manila.

The way I understand it, Meralco is getting into a situation where it makes the millions of consumers as hostages to advance its own interests. That's why some lawmakers were espousing for the idea to grant President Benigno Aquino III emergency powers to resolve the power supply and demand issue. But

Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla said in a report that this was not a good idea because it would send a wrong signal to power utilities companies that the move could be anti-business.

My unsolicited suggestion is for the present administration to test the murky waters once more by introducing a mechanism that will avert the negative impacts of power rate hikes. One of these could be the creation of a buffer whose mission is to install a power supply grid that could be tapped once the Malampaya gas plant is undergoing maintenance repair. In this way, Meralco would be able to source out its power supply needs temporarily from a government power grid at a much cheaper cost.



Monday, January 13, 2014

PH big time rice smuggler identified

Containers at the Manila port. Credit: Marnews.net
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has finally came out with the photo of a certain Davidson Tan Bangayan as the man behind the biggest rice smuggling activities which bleed the Philippine government of at least 1.3 trillion pesos in revenue losses.

Previous reports claimed that David Tan was based in Davao City, which is the reason why Mayor Duterte rose up to the occasion of investigating the whereabouts of this alleged rice smuggler. Finally, Duterte showed the media the identity of the said smuggler during a press conference so that the public
may know his real identity.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said in a media interview that David Tan may have been operating a single rice cartel. This is the reason why the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is digging deeper into the case to find out more details.

Rice smuggling has become a hot issue in the Philippines, after groups of farming cooperatives have complained of sufferings due to stiff competition from rice cartels who were suspected of controlling the supply and prices of rice in the domestic markets. In fact, this resulted to locally produced rice being
sidelined by consumers because they're more expensive to buy than imported rice.

This problem is nothing knew to some officials of the Bureau of Customs (BOC). In fact, there were reports that some of them had been suspected of conniving with smugglers to short-change the government of the much-needed revenues, and collect the bribes for their own pockets.

The modus operandi is that big volumes of imported rice from Vietnam and Thailand are no longer coursed through the Manila port. Instead, the smugglers have used some of the country's remote ports, where they have close contacts with customs district collectors in exchange for huge sums of money.

In the past, it became a routine for importers to declare their goods with the Economic Intelligence and Investigation Bureau (EIIB), even after these were cleared by the Bureau of Customs. With the abolition of the EIIB, it's only the BOC that is tasked to clear imported goods without any hassle at all. That means

BOC officials and employees assigned to inspect the imported goods can do whatever they want to do with the valuation of goods.

Without any agency that can do the counter-checking as to whether the imported goods were properly examined and assessed or not could not be determined. This was the reason why there were clamors from cause-oriented organizations and the new leadership at the customs bureau to employ the latest technology as replacement to manual methods of assessing the duties of imported goods.

There were attempts in the past to computerize the valuation of imported goods but the plan was shelved for reasons unknown to the public. What aggravated the problem was that the abolition of the anti-smuggling bureau and the junking of the computerization at the customs bureau almost happened at the same time. Consequently, smuggling activities at the ports had never ceased.

The idea of privatizing the Bureau of Customs cropped up lately. But the government has to deal with the security of tenure of the regular employees at the BOC who can't just be kicked out or forced to retire for no apparent reason?

Monday, December 30, 2013

When typhoon Haiyan spared our ancestral home

Napo Beach Resort in Maripipi Island, Biliran province.
Every time the spirit of Christmas hovers around the corner, I feel the surge of excitement rushes through my spine.

And the anxiety is more felt as I look back at the years I was with my loved ones during the Yuletide Season. I'm used to being away so many times before because I knew right from the start that I'd be able to withstand the pains and the rigors of the long detachment. I felt a little of remorse that I wans't one of those
whose families were devastated by Supertyphoon Haiyan (Yolanda) that transformed the areas of Eastern and Western Visayas in the Philippines into vast carpet of wastelands. Consequently, more than 6,000 people, including children, died. Alone, Tacloban City, once a bastion of commercial business in Eastern Visayas, being its booming capital, is now a ghost town and so with other areas in the suburbs of Leyte province.

I was raised in one of the paradise islands close to Biliran province, once the sub-province of Leyte. When I heard over The Filipino Channel (TFC) that typhoon Haiyan made its first landfall in Guian, Eastern Samar, and then Tacloban City on its way to Western Visayas, I felt ecstatic and fear had swarmed all over my body. With the magnitude of the typhoon at more than 300 kph, everything on its path would be destroyed, I thought to myself.  True to reports, the wrath that typhoon Haiyan brought to the Philippines was so far the strongest and the most destructive the world has ever known.

With that in mind, how could our ancestral home in that island paradise withstand the blows of the super typhoon? This was the question that played in my mind as I contemplated on what to do next. Although I left the island many years ago, I still have a lot of relatives over there who consider it their home. And why
would I worry when I'm far apart? As a matter of fact, that ancestral home served as my abode for so many years. It was in this wooden structure that gave me sanctuary for most of my young life, and so with my younger siblings. I was worried, too, what our neighbors would say when it's toppled down, and nobody in
the family circle would even lift a finger to chip in something to rebuild it when it's down to the ground.

If I'm not mistaken, the house was built before the onset of the Second World War. It's architectural design alone would tell that it was built, perhaps, during the last decade of the Spanish occupation in the Philippines. Except for the foundation, everything was made of first class wooden materials like narra, among others. But as it aged through the years, even the metals would be no match to the negative effects of rusting. How much more for the wooden materials used for the structure?

Surprisingly, I got a text message from my younger brother who is now a barangay official in the island to convey the message that the house remained standing despite the onslaughts. I asked my brother how and why? It was only after he explained to me one of the reasons why our ancestral home survived the
super typhoon.

"What?" I asked.

According to him, typhoon Haiyan veered away after it completely washed out Tacloban City through the storm surges that rose to at least 10 meters high as the eye of the storm headed straigth towards the direction of Iloilo and Negros provinces. When I was a small kid, my late grandma would tell me a story many
centuries ago that the island was spared from a super typhoon that brought with it huge waves after an Angel suddenly appeared from the sky to pacify the storm with his sword. The Angel stood where the Catholic Church now stands. That's why the annual fiesta celebration was named in honor of Angel Archangel.

Until now, I couldn't believe to myself if the story is true or not. But what I sinscerely believed right now is that sometimes "luck" and "prayers" play a vital role in miracles. That's how I perceived things as they when I learned that our ancestral home was spared from going down. Otherwise, my bitter and sweet
memories in that ancestral home would be buried to the ground forever. Thanked God, it didn't happen.

Happy New Year to all the survivors of Super typhoon Haiyan and may 2014 brings you all good tidings!